If Burial does nothing else when released into cinemas Sept. 2nd, it should make audiences think twice before they pursue a life of crime.
Written and directed by Ben Parker, this small-scale wartime melodrama opens with Karl Edwards (David Alexander) handcuffed to a radiator. The year is 1991, and from his vantage point, he can see Anna Marshall (Harriet Walter) sitting on her bed, ignoring him. Disarmed, disabled, and captive, according to her whim, Karl gets to regret his choice of occupation very quickly.
Burial starts out as a conversational two-hander between them, as a story of wartime espionage and Nazi cargoes gets gradually unpacked. Following some harsh accusations from Karl, who realizes quickly how ill-equipped he is for the job, Anna begins to reveal her part in this sorry tale through a flashback. A move that morphs Marshall into Brana Vasilyeva (Charlotte Vega) circa 1945.
What follows is a strange mix of horror fable, character study, and World War 2 firefight. At this point, writer-director Ben Parker also sketches out his stereotypes. First up is Vadim Ilyasov (Dan Renton Skinner), an obnoxious, overbearing lout who throws his weight around and bullies without impunity. He is headstrong, objectionable, and for that reason, obviously outlasts almost everyone else.
Next in line is Tor Oleynik (Barry Ward), who possesses the genuine leadership qualities this small squad of Russian soldiers requires, should anyone wish to get back in one piece. Then finally, there is Brana, who has more gumption than the rest of her team combined, who forges ahead with the mission irrespective of the obstacles en route.
As they move through Germany and into Poland with their precious cargo, this motley band of Stalinists bond through shared experience. Waylaid by snipers on the road, they are forced to take cover in nearby trees, gathering wood and making fire as darkness sets in. Banks of mist inevitably envelope them soon after, as a brooding presence lingers in the darkness.
With Ilyasov and his comrades heading off to find sustenance, Brana and those who remain are left fanning their meager flame. Talk then turns to werewolves, as their temporary dwelling takes on an ominous air where things go bump in the night. It is also where The Burial gets a little odd, and some audience members might recall the seminal werewolf flick Dog Soldiers.
However, beyond those comparisons, it is also the moment at which Lukasz (Tom Felton) makes his entrance and adds another element to the equation. Needless to say, Brana and Lukasz immediately connect for no other reason but narrative convenience. What follows are further recriminations from local villagers as the identity of their secret cargo becomes common knowledge. On top of that, a rogue team of Russian operatives is looking to steal the contents for themselves.
This leads to a little light capture, some mildly diverting torture in close-up, and further conversations about the morality of keeping this cargo in one piece. That is where The Burial loses its way a little bit more, as any potential drama gets diluted down. Within this ensemble, only Ward, Vega, and Felton really engage, while everyone else is somewhat superfluous.
As this film descends further into formulaic convention and audiences fight an urge to do something else, what starts out as an intriguing concept sold by an understated Walter, fails to land its final twist. There is a distinct sense of disappointment in the final third, as our protagonists desperately try to convince audiences that something more important is going on. Sadly, this is a battle they have little hope of winning since indifference has long since replaced any sense of emotional investment.
However, highlights worth noting include Alex Baranowski’s score, which adds a malevolent quality to some truly top-notch visuals. Another redeeming quality is Harriet Walter, who earns every penny of her fee in those closing minutes by administering a much-needed adrenaline shot to this film. Mirroring in many ways, the approach Diana Rigg applied to Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho at a similar point.
Unfortunately, that is where comparisons end between them since Burial leans too heavily on genre convention without adding anything fresh. For that reason, any decent performances which are happening on screen fail to rescue it from mediocrity.